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Japan, Sea Shepherd trade blows at whaling meet
by Staff Writers
Saint Helier, Jersey (AFP) July 12, 2011

Japan and the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd on Tuesday swapped angry words at the world whaling conference here over the hunting of cetaceans around Antarctica.

In a plenary session of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Japanese delegation chief Kenji Kagawa blasted Sea Shepherd's pursuit of Japanese whaling ships as "sabotage" and "violent and illegal acts".

Showing video footage of high-sea confrontations, Kagawa called on Australia and The Netherlands, which let Sea Shepherd register its ships under their flags and dock in their ports, to block the campaigners.

The two countries should "take adequate measures to stop their actions and ensure that they do not start again," said Kagawa.

But Sea Shepherd skipper Paul Watson vowed to continue harassing Japanese whalers if they returned to the Antarctic sanctuary later this year.

"We are trying to find out what Japan's intentions are," he told AFP on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the IWC, which oversees both the hunting and the protection of cetaceans.

"If they go back to the Southern Ocean, then we go back the the Southern Ocean," said Watson.

"It doesn't make any economic or political sense for them to go back," he added, seated aboard the trimaran Brigitte Bardot, docked at Saint Helier on the British Channel Island of Jersey.

The former French movie star and animal-rights activist contributed to the brand-new vessel, which was launched in May.

The IWC has banned all types of commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, a vast area of sea surrounding the land of Antarctica.

Japan conducts whale hunting there for what it describes as "scientific research", setting self-determined quotas averaging about 1,000 whales each year over the last five years.

The killing is permissible under the IWC rules, but other nations and environmental groups condemn it as disguised commercial whaling.

In February, Japan recalled its Antarctic fleet a month ahead of schedule with only one fifth of its planned catch, citing interference from Sea Shepherd's vessels.

The 89-nation IWC, roughly evenly split between pro- and anti-whaling nations, is meeting until Thursday.

Watson said the hardship caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which left nearly 28,000 people dead or missing, would not cause him to soften his stance or change his tactics.

"If there were an earthquake in Colombia, would we be less hard on cocaine smugglers?" he asked.

"The fact is, Japan's whaling is illegal, so just because there is a natural disaster in Japan is no reason for us to stop opposing their illegal activities in the Southern Ocean."

"Our objective right from the beginning was to sink the Japanese whaling fleet economically, to bankrupt them," he added.

Separately, Atsushi Ishii, a Tokyo University professor and author of "Anatomy of the Whaling Debate", said Japanese were increasingly shunning whale meat as they accepted ecologists' arguments to protect the giant mammals.

"Whale meat has not been selling well in Japan for years. The reality is that the whaling industry doesn't want more meat," he said in an interview with AFP.

Frozen stocks of whale meat stand at more than 6,000 tonnes, enough to keep the country in supply at current consumption rates for 18 months, he said.

But, Ishii contended, aggressive campaigning by Sea Shepherd and other activists prompted a backlash among the public, which did not want to feel bullied.

He argued that the Japanese government was seeking a way to curtail whaling in Antarctic waters, but could not be seen to be yielding to foreign pressure.

"If we pull out of Antarctica, it would be perceived as a total loss against the anti-whaling organisations. Politicians are not eager to accept that," he said.

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Greenpeace loses appeal in Japan whale meat case
Tokyo (AFP) July 12, 2011 - A Japanese court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by two Greenpeace activists sentenced to suspended one-year jail terms for stealing a box of whale meat as part of an investigation.

Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were convicted of theft and trespass last September by the Aomori district court for illegally taking a 23-kilogramme (50-pound) box filled with whale meat in 2008.

The environmental activists contend that they acted in the public interest by exposing embezzlement in the state-funded whaling programme, which Japan says it carries out for scientific research.

They admitted to entering a truck depot and stealing the salted whale meat, which was destined for the home of a whaling crew member, but appealed the sentence against them, saying they were exposing graft.

The Sendai High Court rejected the appeal, an official told AFP.

Ahead of the ruling, Sato said in video footage: "This is a trial concerning people's right to know and freedom of expression. If the people's right to know is upheld, it will be useful for Japan to build a democratic society."

"The government can no longer ignore the embezzlement we exposed," Sato, now the Greenpeace Japan executive director, added in a statement, referring to claims some whalers secretly trade in whale meat.

"It must fully investigate the whale meat scandal, finally end its support for the expensive, unwanted and unneeded whaling programme, and put the money wasted on it into recovering from the March 11 disaster."

Commercial whaling was banned worldwide in 1986, but Japan has since culled hundreds of the ocean mammals annually in the name of science.

Japan has repeatedly clashed with activists over the hunting of both whales and dolphins -- including in annual high-seas confrontations with another environmental group, the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

In July last year, a Sea Shepherd activist, New Zealander Peter Bethune, received a suspended two-year jail term over clashes with whalers in Antarctic waters in which he scaled a harpoon ship. He was deported after the sentence.

Dolphin hunting, which many Japanese defend as a tradition, has also brought activists to Japan after the Oscar-winning eco-documentary "The Cove" shone a spotlight on the annual slaughter in the coastal town of Taiji.

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Do anti-whaling campaigns backfire in Japan?
Saint Helier, United Kingdom (AFP) July 12, 2011
Campaigns to harass Japan's whaling fleet only harden domestic opinion against environmentalists, a Japanese observer says at global whaling talks in the British Channel Islands. Most Japanese shun whale as food and many are sympathetic to the arguments of conservationists seeking to protect the huge sea mammals, but do not want to feel bullied, said Atsushi Ishii, a Tokyo University profess ... read more

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